Adding More Bold Opinions

By Robert Mark on March 1st, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Jeff DanielsWhen I created Jetwhine wayyyyy back in 2006, the tagline was pretty simple … “aviation buzz and bold opinion.”

Since then, some 650 stories of fact and aviation opinion have appeared on these pages. Some of them have have driven readers simply crazy, like some we’ve written about air traffic controllers and the FAA for instance. Some haven’t raised so much as a speck of dust anywhere. But that’s life.

The stories written by our editor Scott Spangler though are often much more controversial than mine. The difference of course is that Scott’s style is so smooth that he makes his point without seeming to point fingers in people’s faces. I’m still hoping he can teach me that trick.

Now as we enter 2014, I think it’s time to add a new element to Jetwhine … more audio.

Today we’re rolling out Episode One of The Aviation Minute. AviationMinute10These podcasts (scroll down) are designed to briefly capture the essence of a single topic. They’re also designed to create enough interest for you to seek more information on your own. It’s the only way you’ll ever stay informed on the ever changing world of aviation. And let’s be serious … this is not the aviation world I came into when I soloed a Champ in 1966 around the patch at Champaign Airport, IL (CMI).

Our first show is devoted to the pilot shortage. And if I stay on top of things, we should have a brand new episode each week that tantalizes you just enough on one topic to make you think.

And of course, I also hope these will someday bring my delivery up to the standards of Scott Spangler … but I still have a way to go.

BTW, we’re always on the lookout for fresh topics that we should keep an eye on. Some of the best of the best have been suggested by you our readers … and listeners now. So please feel free to send along your ideas and comments to me … rob@jetwhine.com.

For those of you who have come to expect complete technology savvy shows, let me mention there will soon be a separate RSS feed and iTunes account to subscribe to only The Aviation Minute should you choose. More on that soon.

Enjoy,

Rob Mark, Publisher

Can Collective Effervescence Save Aviation?

By Scott Spangler on February 24th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

If curiosity got you past the headline, stick with me for a few more words for an idea that might help save general aviation. If you’ve attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, even for a day, most likely its passionate enthusiasm dispersed a year’s worth of bad vibes about aviation’s future possibilities.

AirVenture has been my annual aeronautical antidepressant for the past 35 years. Over that time I and many others have tried unsuccessfully to explain why. I’ve finally found the answer in a National Geographic story, Karma of the Crowd,  about the world’s largest religious festival. For the millions who gather in India at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, psychologists attribute the mental boost the to “collective effervescence.”

Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, coined the term in the 19th century, said National G. In the future, around the time of Star Wars, people might call it the Force. In the current epoch of technology, I’d call it crowd-sourced and shared behavioral synergy. Regardless the term, researchers studying its emotional and spiritual benefits say it is more effective and long lasting than prescription antidepressants. And the only source seems to be a crowd united for a common purpose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Last Words: Charlie Victor Romeo

By Scott Spangler on February 10th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

Charlie Victor Romeo Theatrical PosterLike moths seeking illuminated warmth, pilots are genetically drawn to aviation accident reports. Most say they pore over them to perhaps discern details that might keep them from ending up as the subject of their own accident report. As they read, I’m sure many have unspoken, fleeting thoughts similar to mine…Facing the same situation, I’D never do that!

Such thoughts are easy when reading the detail of an accident because we hear them in our individual intracranial echo chambers. Unless we’ve faced impeding doom, I’m sure the voices that play the different roles carry none of the original emotion, especially when reading the transcripts from a cockpit voice recorder, which by its phonetic initials is Charlie Victor Romeo, the title of a new 3D adaptation of a play first staged in 1999.

The film is now playing in New York and LA. It is listed on Netflix but is not yet available. After watching the trailers, which focuses on a snippet of the DC-10 arrival at Sioux City, one of the six airline accident CVR recitations, I’m not sure I want to. The presentation is all too real because the actors perfectly embody the focused and controlled pilot voice Tom Wolfe wrote about in the opening pages of The Right Stuff.

Watching these gripping snippets introduced a new voice—my own. Too many aviation tragedies are still the unintended results of decisions made by those involved. No matter how many accident stories we read, pilots still run out of gas, push the weather, and lose control of the airplane at low altitudes. We can find solace in the delusion that we’re immune to bad decision making, but how will we react in a situation with fatal consequences not of our own making? Will the CVR record a legacy of focused intent and composure? – Scott Spangler, Editor

Math Transports Jellyfish From Sea to Sky

By Scott Spangler on January 27th, 2014 | Comments Off on Math Transports Jellyfish From Sea to Sky

Technology rules the present and future of every aspect of aviation. It seems clear that pilots can’t fly today without it, or very well with it. If there’s handwriting on the hangar walls that pilots should be paying attention to it would be drone code, UAV, UAS, and RPA.  But aviators are not alone. The technology geeks should check out “With Math as Inspiration, a New Form of Flyer” in the January 15 New York Times.

Dr. Leif Ristroph, an applied mathematician at New York University’s Courant Institute, created this small flying machine with four 3-inch wings. Electrically powered, it keeps itself right side up without sensors or a righting mechanism. Its stability depends completely on the shape and movement of its wings. And it is not alone. A variety of geometric shapes, a pyramid and section of a cone, float in a stable hover before the four-wing flying jelly fish flaps its way into the video that accompanies the article.

This captivating design is not a helicopter or some insect-derivative drone. Dr. Ristroph and his Courant Institute colleague, Stephen Childress, wanted to create a new form of hovering flyer. Why they wanted to create it is an unspoken question not answered in the article, but ultimately I guess it really isn’t that important. It’s also interesting that their design work that started with mathematics, which bring images of Sheldon’s formula-covered Big Bang whiteboards to mind.

Even more interesting is that the duo didn’t model their hovering jellyfish after the real thing. They made the connection after they turned their formulas and force diagrams into something tangible. Still, it makes sense because water and air are both fluids. I take comfort in the reality that while they solved the engineering side of the stability challenge, mathematically, “we don’t really understand for the active flyers how this works.” Nor do they know if their creation will be something useful, but for me, being captivatingly cool is enough. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Flight Training, a GA Pilot and a Goose

By Robert Mark on January 20th, 2014 | Comments Off on Flight Training, a GA Pilot and a Goose

Taking a Bite Out of Those GA Accident Statistics

Whenever a flight instructor finishes up a training session with a GApilot — new or old — they always hope that pilot really understood the lesson before they head out on their own. An instructor knows that when an emergency arrives one day, there won’t be time for a last minute review. Just one more reason for all pilots to take some kind of regular flight training.

With GA accident numbers that never seem to decline, it’s nice to write about a pilot who did everything right … despite significant odds against him.

Baird Windscreen from inside cockpitI spent some time chatting with private pilot Keith Baird the other day. He bases his 1968 Cessna 210 at Chicagoland’s Brookeridge Airpark, also known as LL22 southwest of the city. On December 28th, Baird decided to take a friend for an after-Christmas flight in some nice weather. But climbing through 400 feet or so on departure, Baird’s airplane collided with a 15-pound Canada goose, about the same size as the ones that downed a US Airways flight shortly after departure from LaGuardia five years back.

If you haven’t yet watched the short video shot from inside the airplane that day, it’s worth a few minutes of any pilot’s time. I’d never seen a video of a bird and a plane colliding through a windshield. Trust me it’s eye opening. Baird Bird Strike video. But come back for the rest of the story … Read the rest of this entry »

Things to See, Places to Go—By Airplane

By Scott Spangler on January 6th, 2014 | Comments Off on Things to See, Places to Go—By Airplane

Although we’ve never met face to face for more than a few moments at EAA AirVenture, Paul and Victoria Rosales and I have been friends for more than a decade. After building their Van’s Aircraft RV-6A, Paul made its first flight on July 4, 2000. Each year since, I’ve eagerly awaited their Christmas letter that summarizes the previous year’s aerial adventures. At the end of this year’s letter, Paul scrawled a note: “13 years now flying the RV-6A and almost 3,800 hours.”

The Rosales are not 1-percenters who spend their discretionary income going places. The last time we talked, Paul lived off his job at the Lockheed Skunk Works. Working second shift, he paid for his flying by substitute teaching. Victoria complemented both by developing a thriving Tupperware sales business. And they are never at a loss for things to see or places to go in their airplane, which is why I refer anyone who moans apathetically about $100 hamburgers to www.paulrosales.com.

The website collects Paul’s well-written travelogues in words and photos, and 2013 was a pretty typical year for them. In other words, they flew some place every month. Usually it’s within a state or two of their California home, and they usually take one big trip a year. In April 2013 they spent four weeks logging 70 hours and more than 10,000 miles flying around the Caribbean, where Paul pursues his other passion, scuba diving. Victoria relishes the warm and sunny weather.

Regardless of where they go, near or far, what binds them all is participatory aeronautical friendships. So if you’re looking at a New Year of boring meals at the same old airports, read on about some of the adventures the Rosales had last year. Maybe they will inspire you to fly out of your aerial rut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Recreational Stepping Stones Continue Sporty’s Flight Training Success

By Scott Spangler on December 23rd, 2013 | Comments Off on Recreational Stepping Stones Continue Sporty’s Flight Training Success

Four years ago Sporty’s President & CEO Michael Wolf took time at year’s end to compile a list of the developing trends in general aviation. I look forward to it each year because Sporty’s probably has more contact with the spectrum of aviators, from enthusiasts and new students to veteran pleasure and professional pilots, than any other entity. And it interacts with them not just as a source of pilot supplies, but also for flight training and avionics and maintenance services.

Sport AcadHalf of this year’s 10 trends, writes Wolf, involve the iPad in some way. It’s a MFD for ADS-B In, it sends flight plans to Garmin’s D2 smart watch, it’s replacing paper in commercial and GA cockpits, and it’s changed the contents of a pilot’s flight bag, as well as the aviation apps that run on it. One trend on the list usually deals with Sporty’s Academy, which is dedicated to flight training.

Pretty much a success from its start in the late 1980s, 2013 was no different, Wolf reports, and the academy, which educates professional as well as pleasure pilots, has concluded its busiest year ever. He attributes part of this success to airline hiring, but most of the school’s continuing success stems from its structure that is built “on a series of stepping stones like the first solo and Recreational certificate, [which] leads to more engaged students and better pilots.” This year, “our dropout rate is approaching zero.”

Since the FAA introduced it in the 1990s, the recreational pilot certificate has been the keystone to success at Sporty’s Academy. While Sporty’s embraced it, and succeeded, with a few exceptions, general aviators and the flight schools panned it. There are many reasons why, but the fundamental reason was that is was different, and people, especially those who exist in a structured activity like aviation, don’t like change. And aviation has suffered because of it.

As we march another year forward in writing the history of powered flight, it is again my hope that aviators and educators will replace their fear and dislike of change with impartial pragmatism. It’s way of thinking where you measure something not on its differences but on its potential to do something better. And if it doesn’t work, stop doing it. And if it does, build on it, adapt it to your situation and circumstances. The effort might, like it has at Sporty’s Academy, support decades of success. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Should Aviation’s Past Promote its Future?

By Scott Spangler on December 9th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Because it’s usually informative and entertaining, I’m addicted to the bonus material that accompanies DVD movies. When Netflix delivered Disney’s Planes, I devoured the main course and couldn’t wait for the credits to end before digging into the dessert features. One of them was the Top 10 Flyers in aviation history, which were, I’m assuming, selected by the film’s director and producers.

Preceding this list, director Klay Hall discussed the movie’s “flight plan” during a visit to Planes of Fame in Chino, California, with his teenage sons. It opened with them standing before a Grumman F9F Panther, a Korean War jet fighter, which his father flew for the Navy. It seemed clear that he was born after the baby boom, and his producer, in a later scene, appeared younger still, so I wondered who would be on their Top 10 list. It was a roster that provided few surprises.

In ascending order, Louis Blériot made the list at No. 10, followed by Bob Hoover, Bessie Coleman, Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, the Tuskegee Airmen, Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and the brothers Wright. There’s no denying the significance of their contributions, but in drawing attention to aviation, who will they interest beyond already infected airplane nuts? With the exception of Bob Hoover, most of their achievements preceded World War II, which is ancient history to the millennials who are aviation’s future.

It seems to me that many have made important contributions since aviation’s founding figures retired from the sky. And wouldn’t their diverse accomplishments catch the interest of the people now deciding on their futures? Why not compile—and promote—a Top 10 List of those who contributed to aviation in its last 50 years rather than its first half century?

Who would you put on that list?

Read the rest of this entry »

Weigh the Outrage of the FAA BMI Trigger

By Scott Spangler on November 25th, 2013 | 42 Comments »

The outrage over the FAA’s recently announced medical certification policy to require pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more to be examined for obstructive sleep apnea has been consistent across all channels. (And is it coincidence that the FAA implemented it just before Thanksgiving?)

But not one of the chest-thumping screeds has provided an understandable mental image of what a 40 BMI looks like. “Fat” is the most common adjective, but it does not even come close. Try “morbidly obese,” because a 40 BMI is the threshold for this condition. Such pilots would unlikely be able to squeeze into the cockpit let alone the pilot’s seat.

Let’s put it another way. What is your BMI, your ratio of height to weight? If you don’t know, here’s the link to a calculator. Now, keep adding weight until your BMI reaches 40. How much will you weigh? At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, my BMI is 28.5.

The normal BMI range is 18.5 to 24.9. Like many of my age, my BMI is in the “overweight” category, which starts at 25, and it is 1.5 points shy of obesity’s doorstep. And it’s not even close to the FAA’s 40 BMI trigger. To reach that I’d have to push the scale to 340 pounds. A 6-footer would weigh 295 pounds.

When was the last time you you saw a pilot of this size getting in or out of an airplane? So why is everyone giving the impression that the requirement imposes dire consequences on all overweight  aviators? Let’s be honest here, many other obesity-related conditions rank higher on the medical certificate denial list.

Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding Air France 447’s Author Bill Palmer Talks to Jetwhine

By Robert Mark on November 19th, 2013 | Comments Off on Understanding Air France 447’s Author Bill Palmer Talks to Jetwhine

collagecover3Regular Jetwhine readers might just remember a number of lively debates on this blog about what happened to Air France 447 over the South Atlantic in June 2009. A few of those conversations reached heated proportions too, with opinions … some from pilots, some not. One commentor here at Jetwhine always managed to sound informed yet cool through all the chatter. That man was Bill Palmer, an Airbus A330 captain and instructor pilot for one of the major airlines. 

We spent some time recently talking to Palmer about his new book, Understanding Air France 447,” a volume focused on helping readers better understand what really happened that night, as well as to help separate the facts from the rumors and innuendos. One rumor claimed the tail fell of the A330 — false. Another that the “Stall, Stall,” audio warning message played in the cockpit for nearly a solid minute without anyone in the cockpit even mentioning the word stall — true.

map

The book is chock full of detailed explanations about what happened on board the cockpit of this A330 that stormy June morning, as well as the inner workings of the BEA investigation of the crash. This book offers valuable lessons for any pilot, whether they’re airline or corporate pilots, or Piper and Cessna drivers. You’ll find Palmer’s book in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com, as well in eBook form at the iTunes store.

Grab a cup of coffee and for the next 10 minutes or so listen to Bill Palmer explain what happened aboard Air France 447 in June 2009 and exactly what this crash means for the rest of the aviation industry. 

 

New Rule ‘Advances’ Pilot Training Back to the Fundamentals of Flight

By Scott Spangler on November 11th, 2013 | 14 Comments »

Responding to the tragedy of Colgan Flight 3407, the FAA has issued a final rule that “is a significant advancement for aviation safety and U.S. pilot training,” says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the FAA news release.

Really?

To quote the FAA release, the new rules requires these stick-and-rudder skills:  “ground and flight training that enables pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets” and “expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts.”

The other requirements all have to do with paperwork, such as “tracking remedial training”  and “more effective pilot monitoring,” which is important in assessing blame after unfortunate pilots have a problem related to their lack of current stick-and-rudder skills.

Can I really be so old that the skills my instructor reinforced with practice on almost every lesson—recovering from stalls and unusual attitudes—are now considered advanced training? And landing in a crosswind, at least at most of the airports I called home, was not a special skill. When I was flying in the Kansas City area, landing without a crosswind was the challenge.

Perhaps I am. I learned to fly in the last decade of aviation’s analog era. Back in the 1970s, headsets were the big thing. That was also when the pilot population started its decline, so industry started easing the requirements to make private pilot training less intimidating. Who remembers the heated debates on the need for spin training?

Read the rest of this entry »

LAX Shooting is a Wakeup Call

By Robert Mark on November 6th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

policeGuns and airports don’t mix well … unless those weapons are being carried by law enforcement officers.

Period.

As the aviation industry evolves from an era of proactive problem solving to a search for more predictive solutions based on the tons of data we’re gathering about the industry, we should have seen something like last week’s shooting at Los Angeles International Airport coming.

The data was there. It’s just that no one analyzed it for what it really was … a warning.

Each week the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) publishes lists and photos of the weapons their agents confiscate at airport security checkpoints. For all their customer-service foibles, the TSA is at it’s most admirable at these efforts.

In the week ending October 25 — just days before the shooting — the TSA confiscated 39 handguns at major airports like Houston, Jacksonville and Charlotte. Most of them had a round in the chamber too. Look back over the past year alone and you’ll see the weekly numbers were pretty consistent. Hundreds of weapons then have been brought to airports each year. Why?

The reasons the TSA receives for why these gun-toting folks bring their weapons are often simply bizarre. Responses ideas like, “I forgot I had that gun in my computer bag/purse,” or “Of course it’s loaded. What good is it if it’s not loaded.”

Twelve years after 9/11 people trying to jump on an airliner remember to remove their toothpaste and water bottles from their carry ons, but not their loaded 38s. Read the rest of this entry »

Einar Enevoldson Likes to Fly Gliders High

By Scott Spangler on October 29th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

High as in altitude. Wandering through the science section of the New York Times in the dying days of October, “A Quiet Trip to the Ozone Hole” caught my attention. It’s about the Perlan Project, which is building a pressurized glider that will ride the standing wave created by the Andes Mountains to 60,000 feet.

Riding the top of the altitude-sapped wave, the plan is to catch the polar vortex, “circulating winds that act like a giant cyclone during the austral winter, delivering a strong uplift.” That should carry the glider, whose wings span 84 feet, to 90,000 feet, where it can study the ozone hole, and set a new altitude record while doing it.

Learning about this private project and existence of the “polar vortex” drove my airplane geek meter into the red. But it didn’t come close to meeting (in print and through the accompanying videos) the project’s chairman, Einar Enevoldson. He started his aviation career by learning to fly gliders in 1947, the year Chuck Yeager, broke the sound barrier.

An Air Force pilot doing an exchange tour with the Royal Air Force, he attended the Empire Test Pilot’s School in Farnborough, England. He went on to fly some truly remarkable aircraft between 1968 and 1986 as a NASA research pilot at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Among them were the YF-12 (predecessor of the SR-71), the X-24 lifting body, and the funky scissor-wing AD-1 that made its last eight flights in 1982 at EAA Oshkosh.

As I read, my right brain screamed, Why have you never before heard about Einar Enevoldson? My logical left brain replied with another question: Other than the few who are face-to-face friends, how many mass-market test pilots can you name, and how many of them are the World War II-era peers of Yeager?

Read the rest of this entry »

Are US Investors Trying to Tell GA Something?

By Scott Spangler on October 14th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

Time will ultimately confirm or deny the recent rumors that the Chinese will become the controlling investor in another venerable American manufacturer of general aviation aircraft. Looking at this possibility from another vantage point … is the US business community trying to tell the general aviation industry something by their lack of interest and financial participation?

Their action, or lack of it, speaks volumes. Given the pragmatic bottom-line focus of business and those who invest in them, clearly American investors see little or no return in GA. Ruminating on why this may be offers several possibilities that pose questions about the industry itself, and about the changing focus of American business.

On the industry side there is supply and demand: Interest in flying and aircraft ownership has been in decline for some time. Part of this is surely the result of social change and the willingness of each succeeding generation of Americans to invest the time and money to participate in what captures their attention and interest. An iPhone is easier to master—and is more useful—than learning to fly. GA is not the only one suffering here: today fewer American teenagers get a driver’s license.

Read the rest of this entry »

Asiana 214 Pilots’ Statement Ignore the Obvious

By Robert Mark on October 9th, 2013 | 11 Comments »

AsianaThe pilots of Asiana Airlines 214, a Boeing 777 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport in July, told investigators the auto-throttle system on their aircraft malfunctioned. They swear it was properly set prior to beginning their approach too, assuming of course that the system would adjust the engine’s power as necessary to maintain safe flight.

The problem is the auto-throttles didn’t work as expected, the airplane got too low and too slow and the pilots never noticed until it was too late.

The Boeing stalled on short final to SFO’s runway 28 Left and struck a dike near the approach end. The impact tore the aircraft into a number of pieces also killing three and injuring dozens of other passengers. The aircraft was a total write-off.

Asiana pilots on earlier flights had reported a few maintenance write-ups for the same problem — a series of “uncommanded auto-throttle disconnects” — as a potential culprit in the accident.

My question … so what? Read the rest of this entry »

Suction Engineers Relieve Shutdown Despair

By Scott Spangler on September 30th, 2013 | Comments Off on Suction Engineers Relieve Shutdown Despair

Drowning in the destructive rhetoric spewing unabated from self-important politicians, I turned to the sky to relieve the oppressive shroud of despair their words have woven around me. A beautiful autumn day here in Wisconsin, the Sunday afternoon sky is devoid of clouds and airplanes. The only thing that seems to be flying are the Canada geese gathering on the Fox River as they prepare for their escape to the south. Thank goodness for You Tube. This diverse archive of human endeavor, which includes the Dyson airborne challenge, is a distraction and a refuge from the zero-sum games of everyday life.

Dyson Challenge 2013: Airborne

I don’t have any experience with the vacuuming designs, but I really appreciate their efforts their engineers put into the Dyson Challenge for 2013: Airborne. They had to create a remotely piloted aircraft that would successfully fly an obstacle course. As you can see in the video, it included slalom gates, flying over, under, and between posts, bars, and balloons, and, from the looks of it, through one of Dyson’s bladeless fans.

The unsuccessful attempts at the course entertained, and the diversity of the flying machines the engineers cobbled together proved that our innovative spirit is not moribund. But the video’s most heartening feature was the supportive and good humored camaraderie of the participants. If only we could, as a society, follow their example. Despite their solutions to the challenge, which ranged from an ornithopter and flying wing to multi-copters, a blimp, and a tradition airplane designs, they were all working toward the common goal of successfully navigating the challenge ahead of them. –Scott Spangler, Editor.

Happy Birthday Jetwhine

By Robert Mark on September 26th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

7th birthdayGetting old isn’t really so bad, is it?

Sure a few more lines and sags stare back at you every morning in the mirror, but the upside to aging is wisdom.

Jetwhine’s 7th birthday is just around the corner and I like to think Scott Spangler and I are a lot wiser than in 2006 when Jetwhine’s first story ran. Heck, in dog years we’re almost 50.

I figure we must be smarter to have survived an onslaught of social media competitors that surfaced and also died over the past seven years. Of course a few of those forums really are, in Bill and Ted’s own words, “Most excellent,” and opened our eyes to viewpoints we’ve come to respect.

We bloggers till around can’t help but notice that time marching on can sometimes make us a bit too cozy with the way we’ve always conducted business, perhaps no longer stretching that envelope like in 2006 when we published a piece about the value of a blog for the aviation industry, or the piece on the value of a union for air traffic controllers. Of course there was that fun piece on the Top 10 reasons the Northwest Airlines pilots flew past MSP on arrival. Bet they never lived that one down. How could I forget Scott’s story about our industry getting the flight instructors it deserves. That one grabbed over a hundred comments. Read the rest of this entry »

Midair Refueling is Drone’s Next Challenge

By Scott Spangler on September 16th, 2013 | Comments Off on Midair Refueling is Drone’s Next Challenge

The refueling probe on this Learjet isn’t the latest option available from the venerable business jet manufacturer. It’s not connected to the airframe’s plumbing, but it is an integral part of a flight test program at Navy Pax River. What you cannot see is that this Lear is also equipped with the navigation, command & control, and vision systems used in the Navy’s X-47B.

As a surrogate for the carrier-based drone, the Lear is assessing the its autonomous refueling capabilities and performance for both Navy and Air Force aerial refueling techniques. There were two pilots aboard the Lear, but they were passengers during the Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) tests. This was just the first step in demonstrating the technology “that will enable unmanned systems to to safely approach and maneuver around tanker aircraft,” said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, manager of the Navy’s unmanned combat air system program.

AAR relies on the same datalink and precision relative GPS algorithms employed in autonomous systems that make it possible for the X-47 to land on a carrier. The next test will happen this fall, when the surrogate Lear, using X-47 software and hardware, will fly a completely autonomous refueling procedure, from rendezvous and plug to safe separation.  One wonders what this technology holds for the future of civil aviation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Airlines, Lost Bags and Customer Service … Oh My!

By Robert Mark on September 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

southwest2“Airlines lose bags sometimes. Get over it, ” a guy told me.

Yeah … right.

That nice warm fuzzy reality check didn’t work for me a few months ago when Southwest Airlines lost my daughter’s bag between MDW & LAX.

I’m pretty loyal to Southwest Airlines’ simply because they’ve always handled my travel pretty nicely even if they really did drop the ball this time around. But in the real world of airline flying, where passengers are often looked upon just a few steps above ground sirloin, I’ve come to realize our family experience could have been much, much worse. That said, how Southwest handled me was interesting … to say the least.

The Good and the Bad

Last April we headed to LAX for my daughter’s college orientation, a trip she’d planned and packed precisely “the right outfits” for in her checked bag. Unfortunately, when she and my wife arrived ahead of me at LAX, my daughter’s bag didn’t. Because I followed a day later, I stopped in at the Southwest bag office at MDW before I headed west.

“It’s not here,” a lady in the baggage office told me after looking up my claim number. “Isn’t there a lost bag room or someplace I can look in since I’m right here and I know what the bag looks like?” I asked. “Nope,” she said, abruptly so I left. Nice lady I thought.

During the flight, I Tweeted about the lost bag a few times, enough to catch the eye of the Southwest Twitter people, but that effort didn’t amount to anything either because the baggage folks at LAX had no info when I arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

Friends, Forecasts & the Future of Aviation

By Scott Spangler on September 3rd, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, in some way or another, involved with aviation. Talking with them over the past months, the future of aviation seems to be the discourse destination of choice. On the whole, their outlook on aviation’s future isn’t good.

As might be expected, this consensus can lead to a semi-permanent state of depression. The best antidote I’ve so far found is Nate Silver’s excellent book, The Signal and The Noise: Why so many predictions fail—but some don’t. An infinitely complex subject, accuracy begins with the forecaster’s predictive personality, either a hedgehog or a fox.

These classifications were described by Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science at UC-Berkeley who named them after the main characters in a story by Leo Tolstoy. To summarize their differences, the fox knows many little things from different sources, the hedgehog knows “one big thing.”

Most of my friends and acquaintances are, it seems, hedgehogs, that Silver accurately described as “Type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas.” A few, and I include myself in this category, are foxes, those who “believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”

All-in individuals, aviation’s hedgehogs predict doom for aviation’s future, especially GA, citing everything from the decades-long decline in the pilot population, the price of airplanes and fuel, and the time and effort it takes to become a pilot whether it is for pleasure or a profession. On these metrics, I agree that aviation will never return to its former glory of the 20th century, but the probability that it will cease to exist is unlikely.

Read the rest of this entry »